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Monday, September 30, 2013

Public service must be clean, incorrupt: Singapore PM Lee Hsien Loong

(Today Online) -  “This is your command responsibility, you cannot devolve it to your subordinates, you cannot leave it to your procurement or financial officers. You are the boss, you are in charge.”
SINGAPORE — As the Government sets out to translate its strategic policy shifts into programmes that will improve the lives of Singaporeans, a major determinant of its success will be citizens’ trust, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday.
He said the public service can strengthen this trust by working together as one, placing Singaporeans at the centre of its work and upholding the highest standards of integrity.
“Ultimately, integrity is not about systems and processes but values,” Mr Lee told 250 public service leaders gathered at its annual planning session. “The government must have a culture that doesn’t tolerate any wrongdoing or dishonesty and the public officers must have the right values — service, integrity, excellence — and each officer and the service as a whole must take pride in being clean, incorrupt.”
Calling on public service leaders to take the lead, the Prime Minister added: “This is your command responsibility, you cannot devolve it to your subordinates, you cannot leave it to your procurement or financial officers. You are the boss, you are in charge.”
The Public Service Division yesterday announced several measures to strengthen integrity within its ranks. From today, all public officers will need to declare within seven days whenever they visit the local casinos more than four times a month or if they buy an annual pass. For certain groups of officers, tighter rules will apply.
While the Government is adapting its structure to new needs, Mr Lee said issues will increasingly straddle multiple ministries, as they are inherently complex and inter-related. Thus, Mr Lee outlined three approaches that the public service should adopt, so that it can adapt to these changes.
First, he said that the public service has to present a “seamless and coherent experience” to Singaporeans, as it is “frustrating for the public to deal with multiple agencies and conflicting policies. And over time, the public will lose trust in the (public service) if it can’t figure out itself”.
The Prime Minister cited an example of a member of the public calling the National Environment Agency about a snake spotted near Tanglin International Centre. The officer fired a series of questions to ascertain the location and the right government agency to call, but the case was eventually dealt with by notifying the Animal Concerns Research and Education Society, a non-government organisation. Now, calls on wildlife issues are directed to a single agency, the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority, under the first-responder protocol.
Second, the public service must be responsive to the needs of those it seeks to serve, identifying and solving problems before they become serious, Mr Lee said. Government officers, however, have to discern between valid and self-serving requests, he added. And if in a situation where the public may be wary of providing candid feedback to a government agency who is also the regulator, public service officers would then have to “go the extra mile to build that trust, to get people to open up and to tell you what is really happening”, he said.
And as they focus on their agency’s priorities, Mr Lee reminded public service leaders to maintain a national perspective. “You must uphold our national interests (and) our wider common good … you cannot be captured by your own bureaucratic perspective,” he said.
Third, public service leaders must also pay close attention to service delivery, which is usually handled by junior and mid-level staff at the frontline, Mr Lee said. Frontline staff must be trained and given adequate resources to meet the public’s rising expectations. This could also involve giving encouragement and standing by staff during tense moments.
The Prime Minister, however, stressed that Singaporeans have a role to play. He gave the example of motorists physically abusing Certis Cisco enforcement officers and said that such actions are unacceptable.
“There has to be courtesy, there has to be correctness and if anybody abuses government officers who are doing their duty properly, we have to take action against them,” added Mr Lee. “The government officer must behave properly, so too must members of public.”


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